Radiation therapy is a treatment option for early stage cervical cancer (stages 1A2 - 1B1). Radiation given along with cisplatin-based chemotherapy is commonly used for stages IB2 - IVA cervical cancer.
There are two types of radiation therapy:
- External beam radiation uses high-energy x-rays aimed at the pelvic area from an outside machine. It usually involves a short period of direct-radiation 5 days a week for about 6 weeks in an outpatient setting.
- Internal radiation (also called brachytherapy or intracavitary radiation) is designed to deliver high doses of radiation to the local tumor area. Radioactive material encased in capsules is inserted into the uterus and placed against the cervix as close to the cancerous cells as possible. Radiation implants may also be inserted directly into the tumor using a needle. Low-dose brachytherapy usually requires a hospital stay for a few days, as the patient must remain immobilized. High-dose brachytherapy is given on an outpatient basis during several short treatments.
Both types of radiation therapy may be used together.
In order to be effective, radiation therapy must be powerful enough to destroy the cancer cells' capacity to grow and divide. This means that normal cells are also affected, which may cause significant side effects. Fortunately, healthy cells usually recover quickly from the damage, whereas abnormal cells do not.
Side Effects. Side effects of radiation therapy include fatigue, redness or dryness in the treated area, diarrhea, frequent or uncomfortable urination, and vaginal dryness, itching, or burning. After treatment, side effects usually disappear.
Long-Term Complications. Complications include proctitis (inflammation of the rectum) and cystitis (inflammation of the bladder). Radiation therapy may also cause vaginal scarring, sexual difficulties, and premature menopause in younger women.
|Click the icon to see an image of the female anatomy.|
Radiation itself may increase the risk for later development of cancer in the area surrounding the treated tissue. Although newer more precise radiotherapy approaches should reduce this risk, the development of secondary cancers may be of particular concern for younger patients.
Review Date: 10/21/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.